Lawsuit accusation: Randolph County sheriff fired deputies for backing election opponent

News-DemocratApril 18, 2014 

Two former deputies are suing Randolph County Sheriff Michael Hoelscher for allegedly dismissing them for supporting an opposing candidate in November's election.

Eric Steely and D. Jason Juenger filed the federal lawsuit Thursday in federal court against Hoelscher and Randolph County. Steely and Juenger allege they were dismissed as part-time deputies after walking in a public parade and wearing a T-shirt supporting Shannon Wolff's campaign for sheriff.

Hoelscher declined to comment on Friday. Steely and Juenger declined to comment through their attorney, Anthony Gilbreth, because the litigation is pending. Gilbreth is with the Crowder and Scoggins law firm in Columbia.

The deputies seek compensation for lost salary and benefits, impaired reputation and loss of professional advancement. They also ask the court to order the county and Hoelscher to reinstate them as a part-time deputies.

The deputies also seek expungement of records from federal, state and local database recording their termination, and ask for with punitive damages from Hoelscher.

Wolff, a Democrat, faces Hoelscher, a Republican, in the general election in November.

The deputies walked in the parade Sept. 7 and were dismissed from their positions Sept. 23 and Sept. 24.

Juenger alleges his supervisor at the Randolph County Jail told him the same day as the parade that Juenger was no longer permitted to leave the jail premises for any reason from that day forward, including prison transports.

On Sept. 23, Juenger was dismissed as a part-time sheriff's deputy.

Steely was dismissed Sept. 24 and alleges in the lawsuit Hoelscher told him Sept. 26 he was terminated because Hoelscher would not employ part-time deputies who publicly supported Wolff for sheriff, according to court documents.

The deputies are also suing for defamation following comments Hoelscher made in the Randolph County Herald Tribune newspaper.

Hoelscher allegedly stated the deputies "acted inappropriately while in uniform," and said other incidents led to their dismissal.

Steely began working for the sheriff's department in January 2011, and Juenger began in June 2011.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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